But Freud’s vision of the conflict between instinct and civilization, each with its own dangers and drawbacks, has actually created an impasse for social thought. In framing the problem of domination in such terms, Freud left no exit: either we accept the necessity of some rational authority to control our dangerous nature, or we maintain naively that our better nature is dangerously repressed by the social order. But this opposition between instinct and civilization obscures the central question of how domination actually works. As Foucault puts it: “If power were never anything but repressive, if it never did anything but to say no, do you really think one would be brought to obey it?”
The concept of repression cannot grasp that “power holds good” not by denying our desire but by forming it, converting it into a willing retainer, its servant or representative. It cannot grasp domination as a system that transforms all parts of the psyche. Only when we realize that power is not simply prohibition can we step outside the framework of choosing between repressive authority and unbridled nature.
Jessica Benjamin, The Bonds of Love: psychoanalysis, feminism, and the problem of domination